Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

Have you ever gone to the store, or a restaurant and struggled to decide between all of the great options in front of you? It’s a common problem known as “choice overload.” This term was first introduced in the book, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in 1970. With all of these great options, choosing becomes overwhelming. It takes longer to make a decision and often the decider gives up, altogether. This is really simplifying Toffler’s theory but it’s one of the reasons why many cancer patients and caregivers decline offers of help from friends and family members. Today, I will share how to overcome choice overload and find ways to offer help when a friend has cancer using multiple choice care coordination.

Where the burden of support lies

Usually, when someone is in need of help, we expect them to ask. It seems simple enough. People do it every day. Unfortunately, something as overwhelming as cancer can completely shut down a person’s normal ability to strategize and plan how to cope with the situation. All of their attention is focused on the medical aspect of cancer. The diagnosis process is intense. Often the patient is asked to make many appointments for test after test. They have to learn all about a disease that they likely know little about, and then make decisions about which course of treatment to pursue. At the same time, life goes on with its obligations of work, parenting, and other activities.

While it would make sense to ask for help, it feels a bit like trying to get the carnival ride operator to stop the Tilt-a-Whirl so they can get off. Instead, most patients and caregivers hope that things will soon settle down so that they can regain their balance.

As a Supportive Friend or Family Member:

When you hear that someone you care about is facing cancer or some other life-altering illness, you want to somehow help. The question is, how? What are some ways to offer help when a friend has cancer?

  • You also experience a bit of choice overload. There must be so many things that your friend needs. how can you fill the void? You wish you could just make it better, but you can’t. You might wonder how anything you think of to do, could make any difference at all.
  • It’s common to assume they must already have a lot of help. There is probably some organized system in place complete with a meal rotation, prayer chain and other ways to offer help when a friend has cancer. It’s easy to feel like you would just be one more person underfoot. Maybe they already have enough meals or rides.
  • Then, there’s the question of offering the help. You want to let them know you care and that you’d like to help, but, how? What if you say something “wrong?”
  • There is also a bit of mystery surrounding the home life of someone so ill. It’s easy to picture their home as a somber place of silence. What if you call and the ring of the phone wakes your friend from a much-needed nap? We’d sure hate to bother the caregiver who, as I wrote about in the last post, may have collapsed with exhaustion. So, we put off calling.

When you offer to help

Despite all of these mental obstacles to the ways to offer help when a friend has cancer, you run into your friend at church or in the supermarket. You don’t say it because you are kind, but it’s obvious that they are frazzled by all the responsibilities of life and caring for their spouse. This is your chance to let them know you would like to help. But, how? Maybe you’ve heard that bringing a meal is helpful, but you don’t cook. You try to think of something else they might need help with, but never having had cancer, you just don’t know. So, you resort to asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Nearly always, your friend will shake their head and say, “No. I can’t think of anything right now, but thank you.” Or they will say what I often do. “Please keep us in your prayers.”

Whew! That was easy. You feel like you dodged a bullet. They know you care. Just to seal the deal you say, “Please let me know if you need anything.” You mean it with all your heart. But, your friend doesn’t call. Maybe they are doing okay. After all, if the needed anything, they would have called. Right?

Wrong

Patients and caregivers are feeling overwhelmed, Caregivers, in particular, feel like it’s their job to care for their loved one. So, they try to do it all. Then, they become exhausted. Eventually, they realize they might not be able to do this alone. After all, this could be a long road and they’re wearing out fast. Who can they ask for help?

Then you see you at church or in the supermarket. You heard from another friend that their spouse is ill and you are very sympathetic. You want to help and ask if there is anything you can do. They search their overwhelmed brain, knowing that there must be something, but at the moment, they can’t think of anything. How can that be, they wonder. You say, “Please let me know if you need anything.” That’s so nice of you.

They thank you and go home.

They think, again about how nice it was that you offered to help. What could they ask of you?  They hate to ask for a meal (especially caregivers who are wives). After all, you work a full-time job and have responsibilities of your own. And while a caregiver’s to-do list is a mile long, they couldn’t ask you to help them take their car in for maintenance, or clean the garage as winter is setting in. Surely, you weren’t offering to help with that kind of thing (even though those responsibilities are weighing on them).

Some Problems

I come from Minnesota where we have the phrase “Minnesota Nice.” Sometimes we can nice ourselves out of the very thing we need.  As a caregiver who doesn’t want to be a bother to others, we hesitate to ask for help, even when it’s offered.

Most people will approach the patient, not the caregiver when they think of ways to offer help when a friend has cancer. Sometimes a caregiver would gladly accept the offer but the patient declines it, thinking it’s not really necessary. Often patients don’t realize everything a caregiver is juggling. To minimize this miscommunication, if you really want to help in some way, check with both the patient and the caregiver. This is important, even if you don’t know the caregiver as well (or at all) as the patient. This will really speak to the sincerity of your offer and will surely touch the patient and caregiver’s hearts.

Ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

When you have a loved one who you would like to help, don’t get derailed trying to do just what they need. Yes, you heard that right! The truth is, half the time, they are too overwhelmed to know what they need. Instead, follow these three steps and you will be able to help:

  1. Think about the things you are good at.
  2. Come up with three different things you can do for your friend to lighten their load or brighten their day.
  3. Then say, “I’ve been thinking about you so much, lately. I would really like to help. Here are 3 things I can offer.  Would any of them be helpful to you?”

Don’t get hung up on the number. Maybe you only have one thing. That’s okay. Three is the maximum because anything more will turn an easy decision into a hard one. The beauty in this is that you can do something you are good at, and it may be just what they need. I call this multiple choice help.

Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

 

Out of the Box ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

We have a friend who when we were moving, said, “I would really like to help you but I don’t cook. I do organize well, though. I know you are moving. Could you use my help packing? I could even bring boxes.” She was an angel from heaven! Afterall, who offers to help someone move? Only an angel.

Never feel like the thing you offer is less than what someone else may do to help. You are lifting a burden in your own special way. By offering specific help, you are also giving that person explicit permission to take you up on it. They will know you aren’t just trying to be polite.

Utilize Social Media for Care Coordination

While you likely won’t need to worry about the specific coordination of help (unless that is one of the ways to offer help when a friend has cancer you want to follow through on). But it is a good idea to find out which of these systems if any, that your friend is using.

We are more connected than ever by the internet. There are wonderful tools that you can use to facilitate getting help. My favorite is Caring Bridge. Many people know that it gives you the ability to update family and friends on your condition by writing a journal entry. It also has a planner. You can put anything you need help with on the planner and your friends sign up to help with any task that works for them.  I particularly like that you aren’t limited to meal requests.

If your primary need is a regular meal, Take Them a Meal is the perfect meal coordination site.

Another care coordination site is Lotsa Helping Hands. I personally didn’t find it as easy to use as Caring Bridge, because we had already built up a community on our Caring Bridge site. But if you are new to this, Lotsa Helping Hands is worth checking out.

While there are sites specializing in care coordination, some people choose to use Facebook, either just posting to their personal page, or by creating a specific page or Facebook group for the patient. Using Facebook, they can update friends and family as well as ask for help when the need arises.

And of course, there is always the good old-fashioned phone tree. This requires someone to coordinate the calendar and mobilize people, but it gets the job done. It’s also perfect for prayer requests.

A few more ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

  • Don’t feel unappreciated if they don’t send you a “Thank You” card. While that would normally be Facing Cancer as a Friendproper etiquette, understand that they are swamped, and greatly appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness.
  • Try to bring meals in containers that you don’t need to have returned. Let them know that they can keep them or throw them if they are disposable. That way, they need not worry about whether they’re expected to get them back to you. If you do need a crockpot or other container returned, schedule a time when you can come to pick it up. Also, put your name on it.  A few times, I’ve found Rubbermaid dishes in my closet and wondered where they came from. So, the name helps.

It is a blessing to be helped, and a greater on to help a friend in need. Check out the many ways to offer help when a friend has cancer and more ideas, in my book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Praying for someone who has cancer

This week we got news that my husband’s recent scan was not good at all. We will eventually be going down to the Mayo clinic to see what they recommend in the way of experimental treatment. In the meantime, he is doing relatively well, despite how bad is insides look. People often ask what they can do. I say, “Just pray.” I don’t mean that to sound like it’s some last resort. It’s really truly uplifting to know that people are praying for us. If you are a Christian, praying for someone who has cancer is the best thing you can do. But how? With a problem so big, it can be hard to find the words.

Here’s a list of ways you can be praying for someone who has cancer

It isn’t long, but it is powerful. I would recommend really personalizing this in your prayer time. Think about what, specifically, your friend is facing, and pray for that. This list is more of a mind jogger.

You may want to pray for one of these areas each day, or if something, in particular, is causing the most trouble for your friend, focus on that for a few days. Our family sometimes divides these areas between us at our evening prayer time. Each of us is interceding for a different part of our friend’s life.

Use these ideas in any way that works best for you. And listen for God to respond in your heart. Often, He will call you to be the answer to the prayer you pray!

Things to keep in mind when praying for someone who has cancer:

  • Wisdom: For decisions that the patient, their family, and their caregivers, both professional (medical) and non-professional (family and friends)must make.
  • Financial Needs: For provision to meet bill payments, and the daily needs of the patient and his/her family
  • Physical Needs: Including comfort and healing. Pray specifically for any physical problems the patient is facing
  • Emotional Needs: For the peace of God to transcend the fear that cancer can cause for the patient and his/her loved ones
  • Spiritual Needs: For God’s presence to be felt, undeniably, in the midst of this difficult time. To be at peace with God
  • Practical needs: That friends and family would come alongside the patient and his/her immediate family to lift their burdens. This can be done through, meals, acts of service gifts, and encouragement. Also, pray about how God can use you to participate in this.

Facing CancerMore ways to help a friend with cancer

If you feel up to helping with some of these needs, but aren’t sure how to go about it, read Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, available on Amazon.com. It’s full of ideas to help you use your gifts and skills to help others in a way you’re comfortable.

 

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

 

 

 


Grief in Children

This past month, I’ve been working on getting my upcoming book Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Child Cope With Your Cancer, published. At the same time, we have been trying to navigate our children through yet another setback in their dad’s cancer journey. There is a section of the book which focuses on grief in children. Because of what we are going through, this section of the book was especially difficult to write and edit. It was also especially important.

What is Grief?

“You may associate grief with the death of a loved one, but any loss can cause grief, including the loss of a relationship, your health, your job, or a cherished dream.” (Help Pages.org Grief and Loss)

Most people think that grief is something that they’ll deal with when someone they love dies. In truth, the process of grieving begins at the moment you realize you of a loved one has cancer. This is a huge shift in your life when the story you pictured for yourself changes. The outcome may not look anything like you’d hoped or imagined.

“Life will never be the same. You can never go back to that day before the clinic visit when you learned you had cancer.” -Melissa Turgeon, child life specialist with the Angel Foundation.

When a family learns that a parent has cancer, everyone’s routine changes. Some people are surprised when they see grief in children. Consider that there are some very practical losses your child will experience or anticipate, such as:

  • A very active and involved parent can suddenly become ill and need to sit on the sidelines.
  • A caregiving parent may suddenly devote all of their time to the patient-parent, leaving the kids with a sense of loss.
  • Our 18-year-old developed a keen awareness that it was unlikely her dad would ever walk her down the aisle or hold her babies.

Did that last one surprise you?

Brain development continues until children reach the age of 26. Unfortunately, grief in children ages 18-26 is often unrecognized. Grief in children looks different depending on the age and stage, as well as the personality of the child. Often, grief in children is manifested by physical symptoms like stomachaches and headaches. In fact, these signs may even be more prevalent than tears or anger.

It’s important to acknowledge the deep and profound loss each member of the family is experiencing. How this looks will be different for each person.

 

It’s easy to misinterpret the symptoms of childhood grief. While grief is as individual and unique at the person who experiences it, there are some common reactions and behaviors that are often seen in grieving youth.

Signs and symptoms of Grief in Children :

  • Physical complaints like headaches or stomachaches
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Lack of emotions (even about the death)
  • Separation anxiety
  • Feeling protective of parent and/or family members
  • Worrying about the safety of loved ones
  • Feeling responsible for the death (thinks that in some way he or she caused the death)
  • A change in behavior at school
  • Falling grades, hard time concentrating or paying attention, seems to “daydream” more
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Changes in appetite
  • Regressing (acting younger than they are)
  • Acting overly responsible for their age
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in friends and usual activities, even pushing away old friends
  • Worrying about another death occurring even their own death

A Different Schedule

Research has shown that grief in children and teens also happens on a different schedule than in adults. Because they don’t have the same cognitive capacity as adults, they can’t maintain a deep level of grief to the extent that adults do. Instead, children will show their grief off-and-on, in waves, over a period of many years. As a child grows older, grief will bubble up at different periods in life. When they reach new developmental stages or important milestones such as first dates, graduations, proms, and birthdays, the grief will rise again.

Seeking out youth grief services early on in a parent’s cancer journey can be very helpful. At this time, the support system that you’ve assembled, including professionals, family, and friends will be essential to ensuring your entire family is able to process their grief and continue to live despite the pain each person is feeling.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

 

 

Originally posted 2018-03-12 07:00:01.


talk to children about cancer

It’s important to talk to children about cancer-even with a “bleak” prognosis. My husband, Dan was stage IV, metastatic, when he was diagnosed. So, we have always been told that his cancer was terminal and that we were buying time. The best we could hope for was that he would be labeled NED, No Evidence of Disease (like remission). It’s especially difficult to talk to children about cancer when you are given such a bleak prognosis.

Our Story

One year into his treatment plan, Dan was declared NED (having no evidence of disease). This is a term used to describe what people think of as a state of remission in certain types of cancer. It means that the cancer is still there, it’s just too small to be seen on a scan.

It’s a wonderful feeling to be NED, even though we’d been told that it was only temporary and that at some point Dan’s cancer would rear its ugly head again. One thing that surprised me was how uneasy I felt, even during that time. The first thing that bothered me was that his scans were now farther apart. Instead of being every 6 weeks, they were every 3 months. What if cancer began to progress just after a scan, and rather than it growing, unchecked, for 6 weeks, it had 3 months to multiply? That question plagued me.

We were counting on God to give us the time we needed as a family, and we were counting on people to pray for us, so I also feared that because Dan was doing well, people would forget that we still needed prayer.

Our kids worried too.

In the back of their mind was always the list of “what-ifs.” It was especially bad just before a scan.

  • What had happened since the last scan?
  • Will we be able to stay the course, or will we suddenly have to learn about a new treatment?
  • What will be the new side-effects?
  • Will we have a new schedule, dictated by the chemo schedule?
  • Will there be another option when this one runs out–because it always stops working at some point.

How to talk to children about cancer:

Young Children

While most young children, will be able to quickly move beyond the cancer once treatment is done and you are feeling better, some children worry more than others and may need continued support. In these cases it is especially important to use care as you talk to children about cancer, giving them the reassurance they need, while still being honest.

Teens

Teens may avoid talking openly about their fears or concerns. They often feel a need to protect their parent by keeping their fears to themselves. It is often easier for teens to discuss their fears with someone outside the family. You can see if they would like you to help set that up with an adult they trust or can feel at ease talking to.
Kids tend to see things just as they are. Once you complete your treatment, life goes back to normal and you begin to look like your “old self” again, they’ll probably think that the illness is over. While you might want to tell your children that everything will be fine, it’s best to let some time pass before you give them any assurances, because unfortunately, cancer can recur or metastasize (spread to another part of the body).

Honesty is the Best Policy

  • Be honest about your feelings, with yourself and with your kids. They may be experiencing some of the same feelings that you are. Be honest about the fact that if the cancer returns, it will mean more treatment, of some sort.
  • During this time, you can–and should be happy.
  • There’s plenty to be happy about, and you can share those things together. Maybe you’re looking forward to not feeling nauseous anymore. If you lost your hair due to treatment, you can enjoy seeing it return (maybe even different from before).
  • Enjoy the moment, even if you don’t know what to expect in the future.

The Goal…

For people who have an “incurable” cancer, time is the goal, more time to spend doing the things God had called you to in this life, spending time with family and friends, leaving your mark. Remission, NED, stable disease, they are all good, but they are also another place in the timeline when cancer patients and their loved ones take a deep breath that they will hold a while longer. Talk to children about cancer-even if things look bleak.

In our case, we had reason to hope, even though, medically, it looked hopeless. Our hope was in the Lord, Jesus Christ. He’s been our strength throughout this journey. I’m glad we did hope because we’ve had 4 amazing years of memories, to date, that we might’ve otherwise missed.

 Just Released!!

Facing Cancer as a Parent:

Helping your Children Cope with your Cancer

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


mesothelioma advocate

As an advocate for cancer patients and their families, I daily hear from people facing cancer. Recently, a gentleman named Virgil wrote to me about his experience, Doctors recently diagnosed Virgil with mesothelioma. This diagnosis turned Virgil’s life upside down.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that forms in the thin protective tissues which cover the lungs and the abdomen. Exposure to asbestos causes cancer in the mesothelium tissues. This cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a group of silicate minerals that are fibrous in nature and functions well as a fire retardant. It was once a commonly used insulator. Now that the dangers of asbestos are well known, it has fallen out of use. It can still be found in old buildings and machines. The United States is one of the only developed countries that has not outlawed the use of asbestos, entirely.

Virgil’s Story

Throughout his life, Virgil has had many jobs that have exposed him to asbestos, including automotive and demolition work, I’ve. He says, “On some jobs, the air was so thick with debris and asbestos you could taste it in your mouth.”

Virgil can no longer work and now, mostly lives off of social security disability. Because of fluid buildup in his lungs, he has to be careful about overexerting himself. He has a portable oxygen tank which gives him some mobility. Still, he must limit his activities, Virgil spends a lot of his time spreading awareness and informing others about the resources that helped him on his journey.

Finding resources isn’t always easy

Virgil says, “When I was diagnosed I needed immediate medical attention. I contacted all the top websites on the internet that are supposed to help people with my type of cancer but nobody got back to me.” Then he found Mesothelioma.net. “Even though I contacted them on a Sunday one of their patient advocates gave me a call back within minutes.”

Virgil found valuable information at Mesothelioma.net; information on mesothelioma treatments and doctors, asbestos trust funds for victims, and a lot more. They also sponsor The American Cancer Society, the MD Cancer Center, and the Make a Wish Foundation “They gave me a great deal of helpful information on doctors and resources available to me.”

Mesothelioma advocate

Virgil is now receiving cancer treatment at the National Cancer Institute. The patient advocates have even provided him with financial assistance so he could afford a place to live during his cancer treatments. “If I had not reached out to mesothelioma.net, I would likely be homeless and more importantly in hospice waiting to die. These people gave me my only chance at survival.”

Advocate: Paying it Forward

One of the most important things you can do to ensure your survival is to advocate for yourself. Virgil is an amazing example of an advocate. He searched for information and assistance and is now sharing that information with others. If you have Mesothelioma, check out the information at mesothelioma.net and the mesothelioma resource page at Facing Cancer with Grace.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-03-05 07:00:27.


Faith and Cancer

Your children are developing their own sense of self, and their own personal faith. When a parent has cancer, their faith often goes through a period of questioning. How could God allow their mom or dad to have cancer? Where is God in all of this? Is God punishing them? We are often confronted with the question of why bad things happen to good people. People believe many different answers to this question, even within the Christian faith.

Faith, itself is born out of questions.

In the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Questions are a matter of not being able to see the end of the tunnel. Faith is what keeps you moving, even in the darkness, believing that eventually, you will reach the light. Faith can make all the difference in getting through life and its challenges. It grounds you, comforts you, and gives you a sense of community support.

Our Daughter, Sam

For the first 3 years of my husband’s cancer, it appeared that our daughter, Sam, either had unshakable faith or enormous naiveté. She was unflappable in her confidence that God would take care of us and that everything would work out. More recently I asked her about it since she was much older and could express her thoughts more clearly. She said, “I always knew that Dad could die, but I also knew that God would take care of us, even if that happened.” I knew then, that it was faith

Of course, having that kind of faith doesn’t necessarily spare someone fear, sadness, frustration, or any of the other many feelings surrounding a loved one’s illness. Recently, my husband was going to California to visit our adult daughter, her husband, and children.  Sam had an awful nightmare, the night before. As a result, she had a total meltdown. In tears, she told Dan that she’d dreamed he didn’t come back from California and that we’d never see him again. She asked him not to go. The reality is that the dream was really a manifestation of her fears about losing Dan to cancer. Thankfully, he was able to comfort and assure her that everything would be okay. He had a good trip and did return to us, safe and sound.

Your Child's Faith

What do YOU believe?

What are your beliefs about this question of why bad things happen to good people? In particular, why do good people get cancer? Is it a punishment for past mistakes or sins? Maybe a testing God allows, like in the book of Job? Is cancer a random event? Your answers to these questions are a reflection of your beliefs and who you are. It’s likely that your children are very aware of these things and have many similar responses to something as earth-shaking as cancer.

Children’s brains don’t fully develop until age 25

This is why it often takes that long before they really get their act together. It also makes it more difficult for them to reconcile their experience as a child of a cancer patient, with what they have always been told or believed about God.

What if you haven’t told your kids how you feel about matters of faith and God. If that’s the case, it’s likely that you’re wrestling with some of these same questions, and that your children won’t have a clear basis for their ideas on faith. It’s okay to tell your children that you’re struggling with what to believe. Again, this is coming from a place of honesty and trust. At that point, it’s essential that you begin to explore these things for your own spiritual well-being.

Your childs faith and your cancerGetting Help

At times like these, it can be a good idea to reach out for advice and help, for yourself and your children. Talk to a trusted pastor or a friend with a faith that you admire and feel you could connect with. They may be able to listen and explain things to you and/or your child.

One word of caution

Often, well-meaning people will tell a child who has lost a parent, “God must have needed another angel in heaven.” This can be very destructive to a child’s image of God, turning Him into the one who took their parent away. It’s better to say, “I’m so sorry for what you are going through,” or “I’m sorry for your loss.”

My Experience

For a long time, I struggled with the question of why my husband would have cancer. It seemed so unfair. I wasn’t angry with God, but what we were going through wasn’t lining up with how I believed the world worked. What helped me come to terms with my husband’s cancer, was faith.  Like my daughter, Sam, I had to trust that things would be okay. That didn’t mean that they would be the way I thought they should be, but that God would have His hand on us through this.

Above all, I take comfort in knowing that when my husband does die, whether it is in 6 months, a year, or 20 years, he’ll be in the very presence of Jesus Christ. For us as believers, there is nothing better than that. So, as hard as this journey is, I will rejoice for him on that day.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-02-26 07:00:13.


caught off guard by cancer

How can you avoid being caught off guard by cancer? No one expects to be diagnosed with cancer. But there are ways to lower your risk. You can also arm yourself with information on how to handle a crisis like cancer so that if you or a loved one does face this disease, you don’t feel completely powerless.

Cancer is a lot like a C-Section

When I was pregnant with my daughter, Summer, I ate up every prenatal class with all of the excitement and anticipation you would expect from someone expecting their first child. I was determined to do everything right. So, I paid close attention as the instructor gave each new lesson, even when they taught us the breathing technique that you always see in the movies. But when the instructor began talking about c-sections, I mentally checked out. I can’t explain it, I just assumed that since I was a healthy young woman with a healthy baby, I would have a normal pregnancy, including a normal labor and delivery. Why would I take in unnecessary information?

So, I was stunned when after 3 days of labor, the doctor told me that I would have an emergency c-section on June 29. 1998, How could that be happening? I searched my memory for the information they tried to teach me in that class, but it wasn’t there.

So, it was a frightening experience. Recovering from the surgery was painful and took much longer than I had planned. To top it all off, I felt guilty as if I had somehow failed. If I had paid attention to the birthing class, I probably would have known that nearly one in three births are delivered via cesarean. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself.

Caught off Guard by Cancer

15 years later, doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. He was too young to have cancer. We were too happy. Didn’t only smokers get lung cancer? The whirlwind of the diagnosis and subsequent treatment left us little time and energy to process what was happening. We had to guess at what to say to the kids and how to help them through the realization that their dad had cancer.

When you’re caught off guard by cancer you don’t have a chance to get your bearings before you lose your balance. It seemed everyone was telling us what we should do, even though most of them had never been in our position (people who had, respected our feelings and choices without judgment). We felt very much out of our element, without any good mentors.

Why would anyone want to learn about cancer?

Half of all men and a third of all women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. If you don’t already know someone who has cancer, you will. Will you be caught off guard by cancer?

Are you at risk?

  • Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for cancer.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol, altogether.
  • Protect your skin from UV rays.
  • Early detection is key.
  • Know your family history and risks.
  • Avoid environmental carcinogens such as tobacco, radon, asbestos, and other chemicals.
  • Ask about cancer screenings such as mammograms, skin checks, colonoscopies, PAP test, and other screenings.
  • If you have a health complaint-don’t ignore it.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Good Nutrition

Getting good nutrition can be difficult when you have cancer, both because of the disease and side effects of the treatment. There are some things you can do to overcome this obstacle to your healing.

Cancer can make good nutrition more difficult

Patients with head and neck cancer often have malnutrition before they start treatment. This is due to pain and trouble swallowing, swelling, and bleeding. Often a patient needs to consider a feeding tube as a temporary way of receiving the nutrients they need during their treatment.  Eating softer foods is important when you have cancer of the head and neck.

The pancreas makes an enzyme which helps break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. This enzyme aids digestion and helps to neutralize stomach acid as it enters the small intestine. If the pancreas isn’t working properly, there can be a shortage of these enzymes. This often means the body doesn’t get enough fat and fat-soluble vitamins from the food you digest. Proteins may not be completely digested, leading to the formation of toxins or allergies. Your pancreas also might not break down carbohydrates, leading to diarrhea and other problems with your digestive system as a result of a malfunctioning pancreas.

There are so many reasons why it can be difficult for patients with gastric cancers to get good nutrition. Patients may experience loss of appetite, both from treatment and cancer itself. The stomach may not empty properly. This can cause the patient to feel full longer.

 

Cancer treatment can make good nutrition difficult

Surgeries and radiation can make eating and digestion painful. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause severe nausea and vomiting. Mouth sores can also make eating a painful experience. Ask your doctor for advice on ways to ease discomfort and nausea.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy affects rapidly dividing cells like the cells that line your mouth, throat, stomach, and digestive tract. This can quickly affect your ability to get good nutrition by changing the way things taste and your appetite.

The time and duration of your chemotherapy can affect the severity of your appetite loss. Your appetite will most likely return to normal within 2-6 weeks of ending chemotherapy. Even if you don’t feel like eating, it’s important to try to get the good nutrition you need to fight infection and repair tissue damaged by cancer and its treatment. Getting good nutrition also helps fight fatigue and weakness

See a Nutritionist

Ask if your cancer center has a nutritionist on staff, or can refer you to a nutritionist who specialized in oncology nutrition. Oncology patients have special nutrition needs as well as oncology-related issues that can interfere with meeting those needs. They might be able to prescribe extra vitamins or supplements. There are also prescription medications that can help with appetite problems. If thing don’t improve and you begin to lose too much weight, your doctor can help you decide if temporary tube feeding or getting extra nutrients via IV is a good idea.

When Dan was first diagnosed, he saw a nutritionist who was able to give us some great advice about what he should be eating and how to make meeting his nutritional needs easier. She knew the issues that could crop up and make doing this harder. She gave us some easy recipes for shakes and smoothies that made getting the right kind of protein possible, even if Dan wasn’t up to eating solids.

Good Nutrition

Other Tips for getting Good Nutrition

Most cancer patients have higher energy and protein needs. Meal replacement beverages can help supplement those needs. Ensure with Revigor is one example of these. You can make some great tasting shakes at home in your blender and even add protein powder to give them an extra boost.

Along with smoothies, try making Popsicles from blended fruits. This can help increase your caloric and nutritional intake while soothing an inflamed mouth or throat.

Watch the spices! You may need to eliminate certain spices that bother your system. On the other hand, if irritation isn’t a problem, adding new and interesting flavors and spices to your food might be just the thing to entice your palate.

Chemotherapy often changes the taste of your foods. Sometimes the food you eat tastes metallic. Reduce this effect by eating with plasticware rather than metal utensils. Cooking in glass or enamelware can also help.

Choose foods that are high in calories and protein, as well. Stir some protein powder into your ice cream or pudding. Every little bit helps.

Eat what you can, when you can.

When Dan started having trouble with his appetite, we went to the store and walked down all of the aisles. When he saw something that looked appetizing we tossed it in the cart. He keeps his snacks nearby so when he’s ready to nibble, they are there. He ate frequent, smaller meals rather than 3 large meals every day.  He found it easier to eat more in the morning, so that became the main meal of his day rather than dinner when he found it hardest to eat.

If you find it hard to eat solids, don’t waste your fluids on non-caloric ones. You are doing the opposite of dieting. Instead, drink fruit juices, milk, and other beverages that have calories and nutrients. It may not be the optimal way to get calories and nutrients, but at this point, you just do the best you can.

If sitting down at the dinner table feels overwhelming, take your mind off of it and eat while watching your favorite show. People are often told that it’s not a good idea to eat in front of the TV because they will eat more than they realize, without meaning to. Again, you are doing the opposite of dieting. This is your chance to break all of the rules.

If you are finding that you never feel hungry, eat on a set schedule. Every couple of hours eat a small meal. It might just be a banana or a half a sandwich, or maybe a scoop of ice cream. These small meals will give you nutrition and maybe even some good nutrition to pull you through and fuel your body.

 

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-02-19 07:00:34.


Prostate Cancer

In honor of Men’s Health Week June 11-17, I am writing about Prostate Cancer. We hear a lot about women’s health issues. Unfortunately, the life expectancy gender gap has been growing. This is the number of years one gender is expected to live beyond the other.

  • In 1920, the life expectancy gender gap was only 1 year.
  • By 2014, men were dying almost 5 years sooner than women.

Why the Gap?

Men’s Health Library lists the following as some of the reasons for this gap in life expectancy:

  • Men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death and are the victims of over 92% of workplace deaths.
  • A higher percentage of men have no healthcare coverage.
  • Men make ½ as many physician visits for prevention.
  • Men are employed in the most dangerous occupations, such as mining, firefighting, construction, and fishing.
  • Society discourages healthy behaviors in men and boys.
  • Research on male-specific diseases is underfunded.
  • Men may have less healthy lifestyles including risk-taking at younger ages.

All these things add up to men dying at faster rates than women. Only men can bring about the changes needed to alter these numbers. Of course, the women in their lives can advocate for them. This includes encouraging them to see their doctor for annual exams and when symptoms arise that should be looked at.

Preventative care is a huge factor in women living longer than men.

Women are 100% more likely to visit the doctor for annual examinations and preventive services than men. (1)

Prostate Cancer Facts:

1 in 7 Men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

Risk Factors

Race

1 in 5 African-American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

African American men are also twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than other races are, however, if diagnosed at the same stage, the mortality rate is the same. Early detection is key!

Family History

Men with a family history of prostate cancer are 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Know your family history, especially if a blood relative has had prostate cancer

Men with the breast cancer gene, BRCA1, and BRCA2, have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

Diet and Exercise

Eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in fat and red meat to reduce your risk of prostate cancer.

As a preventive measure, and for your overall health, eat at least 2½ cups of a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day.

Get physical activity daily.

Maintain a healthy weight.

According to the American Cancer Society, studies have suggested that diets high in certain vegetables, including tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower), soy, beans, and other legumes, or fish may be linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially more advanced cancers.

Also, several studies have found a higher risk of prostate cancer in men whose diets are high in calcium. There may also be an increased risk from consuming dairy foods. This doesn’t mean that men who are being treated for prostate cancer should not take calcium supplements if their doctor recommends them.

Agent Orange

Vietnam vets are 2 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and it is also more aggressive.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, Health, United States 2015. Retrieved June 3, 2016, 2 Life Expectancy data are from CDC/NCHS, Health, United States, 2015

Prostate cancer is very treatable when caught early.

Symptoms can include:

  • Chronic pain in the hips, thighs, or lower back
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Blood in the urine/semen
  • Trouble getting an erection

Because these symptoms can be mistaken for non-cancerous conditions (and vise-verse) it’s important to see your healthcare provider for regular prostate cancer screenings. See http://www.prostatehealthguide.com/ for more information of prostate health.

When to Screen

The American Cancer Society recommends you talk to your doctor about screening at:

  • Age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years.
  • Age 45 for men at high risk of developing cancer of the prostate. This includes African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with cancer of the prostate at an early age (younger than age 65).
  • Age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age).

Treatments for prostate cancer have improved over the years, but nothing is more effective than prevention and early screening. Talk to your doctor today.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a set of symptoms affecting the nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy affects your nerves, or those on the periphery of your body: Skin, fingers, toes, etc. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy is when these symptoms are the result of chemotherapy.

Symptoms of Neuropathy

  • Numbness
  • Pain This may be constant, or it may come and go like a sharp, shooting/stabbing pain.
  • Tingling, pins, and needles or electric shock type pain.
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Burning sensation
  • Lack of dexterity, trouble buttoning shirt etc.
  • Problems with balance
  • Sensitivity to cold/heat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Blood Pressure changes
  • Decrease in reflexes

Symptoms tend to start farthest away from your head (toes and feet) and move closer to your head over time. They are usually bilateral, affecting both sides of the body at the same time.

If Neuropathy Comes Knocking

If you notice symptoms of neuropathy (or any change in your health and well-being) tell your oncologist immediately. They need to know as soon as possible how your body is reacting to the treatment you are on. Then, your doctor can make any necessary changes in your treatment plan and address your concerns when side effects are more easily managed.

Also, see a neurologist to rule out any underlying neurological problems that might be causing your symptoms. If you haven’t had a recent brain MRI, talk to your doctor about getting one.

Consult an orthopedist. They can check your musculoskeletal structure for problems that could be affecting your feet and legs.

Chemotherapy and Neuropathy

Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells. It can also affect nerves that connect the spinal cord to the patient’s muscles, skin and internal organs.

Whether a patient develops chemotherapy-induced neuropathy depends on many factors, including the type of chemotherapy used, and at what doses it’s given. And, of course, the individual patient’s health also plays a part.  It can begin at any time after treatment starts and often gets worse as treatment goes on.

Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy may go away after treatment is completed, or it may be a long-term or even permanent problem.

Preventing chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.

Before beginning any treatment plan, discuss the risks of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and the ways you can work with your medical team to prevent it.

Is the potential neuropathy from any given treatment usually temporary or is it often permanent?

Find out what side effects to should watch for.

Ask your doctor their preferred way of receiving messages is. Many doctors are moving to electronic charting. Some still prefer to get a phone call.

Your doctor might change the way he or she gives you your chemotherapy. He/she might:

  • Reduce the dose of the chemotherapy
  • Administer smaller doses more frequently
  • Deliver chemotherapy as a slow, non-stop infusion over a longer period of time

Medical Treatments for Chemotherapy-Induced Neuropathy

Oral medications:

  • Steroids (short term)
  • Low dose antidepressants
  • Prescription pain medication (opioids)

Medical Marijuana (in states where it is legal) (1)

Topical Creams:

  • Steroidal creams (short term)
  • Lidocaine, which is a numbing cream or ointment
  • Capsaicin, which is made from the capsaicin oils of hot peppers

Occupational Therapy

  • To help with fine motor coordination (Buttons and shoelaces etc.)
  • To decrease the risk of falls

Alternative/Complementary Therapies:

Relaxation Techniques:

  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Hypnosis
  • Biofeedback

Research has proven that these, and other relaxation techniques, can greatly reduce pain levels in patients. (2)

For more information, read this article from the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. (3)

 

acupuncture for neuropathyAcupuncture

Research has shown that Acupuncture improves nerve conduction in peripheral neuropathy. (5) Be sure to use a licensed acupuncture specialist. More and more chiropractors are learning acupuncture.

I have been receiving acupuncture at a pain clinic for the pain in my feet. I was skeptical of the practice until I experienced its benefits.

My doctor told me what led him to become licensed in acupuncture. His father in law is a veterinarian. One day he said, “Grant, I want to show you something.” He then proceeded to perform acupuncture on a dog who was suffering from arthritis in her hips. After the acupuncture session was over, the dog could walk with no problems. “There’s no placebo effect in animals,” he pointed out. Seeing was believing, and my doctor went back to school to learn an additional way of helping his patients.

Manual Lymph Drainage

Because manual lymph drainage is contraindicated in the presence of metastatic cancer, and its benefits have not been well established, I will not go into detail on this alternative treatment for neuropathy other than to say that the reason this is potentially harmful is because of the way the lymphatic system can be used to transport cancer cells around the body with metastasis. You certainly don’t want to help the process out. If you don’t have metastatic cancer and would like to investigate further, check with a reputable massage therapist.

ExercisePool therapy for neuropathy

Exercise to improve your circulation. Consider pool therapy or swimming if pain makes “regular” exercise or walking too painful. Check with your doctor to make sure that the pool is safe for you. Some people need to avoid the chlorinated water because of its effects on their skin. There is also an increased risk of infection. Your doctor will be able to help you weigh the benefits and risks.

Some Additional Suggestions

Avoid alcohol, since it can cause and/or make nerve damage worse.

If you have neuropathy in your fingers, be careful when handling sharp objects. Wear protective gloves while gardening or doing other chores which could damage your hands.

Likewise, if you have neuropathy in your feet, avoid walking barefoot or in open-toed shoes. If the neuropathy in your feet affects your balance, or you stumble on occasion because of it, use supportive aids(handrails, cane, walker). Have grab bars installed in your bathroom.

Avoid extreme temperatures. Check the temperature that your hot water heater is set on so that you don’t scald yourself accidentally.

Eat a high fiber diet if constipation is a problem. Not only can neuropathy affect your bowel habits, but so can the medications you take to manage pain.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

  1. The Neuropathy Journal, Treating Neuropathic Pain with Medical Marijuana. Morrow, David
  2. Western Journal of Medicine. 2001 Oct; 175(4): 269–272. Pub Med.gov
  3. The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. https://www.foundationforpn.org/living-well/integrative-therapies/mind-and-body/
  4. Acupuncture treatment improves nerve conduction in peripheral neuropathy. Eur J Neurol. 2007 Mar;14(3):276-81. Pub Med.gov

 

Originally posted 2018-02-12 07:00:39.

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